Tom Perez and the DNC have got some nerve to sit Stacey Abams at the head of the kid’s table, burying one of the most impressive, accomplished and recognizable Black women in America at the end of a so-called “keynote” video that used local leaders to highlight the party’s supposed diversity without giving those leaders any real time to actually present themselves, and that aired at 9 PM on Tuesday — an hour before the networks start airing the convention.
Sure, the party wants to highlight the ones to watch in the years ahead. Many of the local leaders many Americans saw — “met” would be too strong a word for the 5 to 15 second cuts from pol to pol, like a nerdier version of the celebrity “Imagine” video — for the first time tonight will hopefully go on to truly lead the Democratic party and push it forward on progressive issues that should be the foundation of our democratic and Democratic future.
But leaving Abrams two minutes at the end of this montage wasn’t a way to showcase a star in the party but a way to put her back in her place—to make plain that she’s not part of the party’s leadership now. Even as the 77-year-old Joe Biden offers himself as a “bridge” to a more diverse future, the sidelining of Abrams shows the party’s need for a real reckoning, not just on policy but also on how they prioritize Black female candidates, especially those in the south. From the Georgia governors race to the South Carolina senate primary all the way through the presidential primary, Democratic leadership is still clearly uncomfortable putting their full support behind non-white and non-male candidates.
No disrespect to her Democratic colleagues — mostly city council members and state legislators — but Stacey Abrams is by far the most accomplished of the individuals with whom she shared screen time in a format that seemed to be more about showing pictures of the supposed diversity that’s coming soon to the national stage rather than actually giving any of the people in those pictures the time to truly introduce themselves. Good luck saying anything more than who you are and maybe a couple of platitudes in less than two minutes.
It’s notable that one of the other politicians in the video is a former Abrams intern. Rep. Sam Park of Georgia. He is indeed a rising star, but the visual of the two of them on the same virtual stage at this point in their careers is not just inaccurate but insulting — or at least it should be if we are being honest about the history of sexism and anti-Black racism in this country and even within the Democratic party.
Are Democrats really saying that the woman who founded Fair Fight and Fair Count has the same political future as first and second term city council members? That the woman who has raised millions upon millions of dollars for candidates across the country should be mentioned in the same breath as someone who has been in office for a shorter period of time than most people spend in college? That the woman who built a voting-rights infrastructure across 20 states and almost single handedly contextualized the severity of the Census crisis should be sat at the kid’s table?
Again, no disrespect to the newcomers, but the placement of Abrams — not very long after she was considered for, and made the case for herself, as Biden’s running mate — feels like a direct message to ambitious and accomplished Black women everywhere who state what they want: “Play by our rules and wait your turn. Do not create your own paths for success, organization, coalition building, fundraising, or much of anything else.”
For far too long the Democratic Party has half-heartedly asked Black candidates what they can do for them. But just as James Baldwin warned, we need a party that will ask, “What can we do with you?” Abrams did not wait for the DNC to assist her in her nationwide pursuit of democracy and equity, and now she is being punished for her success. One need only to rewatch her State of the Union rebuttal last year to know she has mastered the art of the awkward speech into the void.
Yes, the Democratic Party deserves a victory lap about the selection of Kamala Harris as the vice presidential nominee. Similarly, the party took victory laps after the election and reelection of Barack Obama, and let’s look at where that got us—a pendulum swing to perhaps the most anti-Black president of the last century.
The DNC has never dealt with the structural inequities that exist within the organization and the party, which leaves us with a montage of a few rising stars and one whose light they are trying to dim.